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Week In Review: The Time-Warner AT&T Trial Is Under Way; Twitter’s Second Screen “Watch Parties”

1. The Time-Warner AT&T Trial Is Under Way

Thus far, the trial has offered few surprises beyond the judge banning any and all manner of digital equipment, including, it seems, an Apple Watch.

Turner CEO John Martin testified that it would be bad business sense to withhold any of his networks from other distributors. (This is true.) AT&T’s lawyer’d tripped up a Dish witness by throwing back Charlie Ergen’s assertion that losing Turner channels wouldn’t phase him (several years back, Ergen had referred to the possibility of losing Turner as a “non-event.”)

Vanity Fair magazine managed to steal some the show, however, by running a series of articles suggesting that Time Warner execs were having second thoughts about the deal, that as time drags on, they’re starting to realize that they could get a better deal elsewhere, either as a whole, or by selling off the various parts of the empire to different bidders.

Why It Matters

It’s always interesting to see people who are not in the industry try and make sense of it. If there’s one true thing about the television industry, it’s that all those layers of complexity and intertwined legal arrangements have helped safeguard it from the rapid implosion that befell the music and publishing industries in the face of the digital invaders.

The Vanity Fair pieces only serve to amplify that, as so much has changed in the past year alone, that it’s as if Time Warner were a whole new company.

And let’s not forget the big bad wolves sitting on the sidelines anxiously watching how this all plays out: Google, Amazon, Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Apple, who’d all kill to have some sort of last mile connection to the home.

As we’ve noted before, that, in many ways, is the hidden story here: while TV industry players do indeed need scale to compete against GAFA, they also have a secret weapon: they own the internet, or, more accurately, that crucial last mile.

It matters because technically—especially now that net neutrality is history—AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter could get together and decide they are no longer giving their mobile and broadband customers access to Google, Amazon or Facebook. Which, given that those customers have no alternative means of connecting to the internet, last mile web access being mostly a monopoly in the U.S. and all, would mean that Google, Amazon and Facebook were majorly screwed and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it other than perhaps taking out full page ads in the New York Times.

That’s some serious leverage and it’s why we expect to see the GAFA companies start buying up companies with last mile access—Sprint being a prime target, now that 5G is looking more and more real.

What You Need To Do About It

Not much to do other than watch the drama play out.

If you’re someone who might buy Time Warner (or a piece of it) or even AT&T should the deal fall apart, you’ve probably already thought about what that scenario would look like. But in the off chance you haven’t, now’s your time.

2. Twitter’s Second Screen “Watch Parties”

Unable to secure rights to the NCAA basketball finals, aka March Madness, aka The Final Four (and TBH, we have no idea if they even tried) Twitter is going to be hosting online “watch parties” for users stuck alone at the office or without any basketball loving friends to talk to.

It’s an interesting concept, one that plays to Twitter’s strengths—real time conversation and video—but also plays up its weaknesses.

Because who really wants to discuss basketball with a pack of’ randos, many of whom are hiding behind trollish pseudonyms?

Why It Matters

Twitter’s attempts at social chatter work best when they’re dealing with Tumblr/Reddit-level obsessives of hit TV shows who all engage in groupthink while fangurling and fanboing the show’s stars. That’s been a great play for Twitter and for the various showrunners who make use of the platform, as those fans are Twitter regulars, not just an occasional fan who stumbled onto the platform.

Sports and other events that involve those sorts of one-offs, and people who don’t regularly use the platform or know other users tend to be problematic for Twitter.

Either the newcomers are annoyed by the steady barrage of barely literate “Sister Jean Rulz” “Wolverines Suck!” tweets that overwhelm their feed and/or they turn the feed off entirely and just watch the video, which does nothing for Twitter as, if anything, it convinces the newcomers that there’s no value in signing up.

What You Need To Do About It

Be realistic.

If you’re an advertiser like Wendy’s be aware that the people who are coming to Twitter to watch are going to be happy that you’re letting them watch some decent commentary and otherwise think good thoughts about you, but they’re not about to become your #1 Twitter followers.

If you’re Twitter, realize that a format like the one you’ve set up is not going to convince most of the people watching to sign up, that many of them accidentally wound up there via Google thinking they were getting the actual live feed from Turner, but hey, you may get a couple of takers who are fascinated by the format.

And if you’re the trade press—stop letting those announcements of the number of digital “views” go unchallenged.